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A natural gas drilling wastewater impoundment in Pennsylvania

EPA wastewater regulations are coming

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

The Environmental Protection Agency has made headlines this year with its newly-implemented carbon emissions regulations for power plants. The standards are central to President Obama’s second-term clean energy initiatives, and seek to address growing concerns with the changing face of the country’s energy use. Supporters and critics alike have had plenty to say about the plan’s effects on the coal industry, renewable energy markets, and government overreach.

Now, a leaked document shows a sneak preview of the next environmental hazard on the EPA’s chopping block: fracking wastewater.

An article today on mondaq.com reveals that an internal EPA draft of proposed rules was leaked to the internet. The document provides a glimpse at which factors surrounding wastewater pose the greatest health and safety risks, and how the EPA intends to regulate water treatment to minimize these risks.

The process of hydraulic fracturing involves blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to break up shale formations and free oil and gas deposits trapped within. Exposure to this chemical mix, as well as extremely salty and radioactive underground brine, makes water used in the process unfit to rejoin surface water supplies as contact or consumption can be hazardous to human and animal life.

Unfortunately, because a single well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater in a year, there’s a lot more being created than the country can keep an eye on. Hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater have been spilled or illegally dumped into drinking water supplies since the shale boom began.

Related: Study shows how drilling wastewater causes quakes

Responding to public outcry over possible health concerns, the EPA announced in 2011 it would develop a new system of rules for wastewater treatment by 2014. The existence of the leaked draft suggests the organization will make good on its promise.

The draft lists about 20 substances commonly found in wastewater that can negatively affect water supplies. It proposes standards to determine whether contaminated water is a good candidate for treatment, which removes harmful substances in preparation for a return to surface water systems. If the water is highly contaminated, the document suggests, it is better off injected deep underground, below drinking water supplies. This indicates an intended shift away from above-ground wastewater storage facilities, which have a tendency to leak in inclement weather or due to equipment failure.

Take a look at the EPA’s leaked document: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions

And read the mondaq.com article here: Leaked EPA Draft Offers Insight Into Upcoming Shale Wastewater Regulations

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